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Major presence in sports

Golf tournament expected to continue; bank's other partners await next step.

By Ron Green Jr.
rgreenjr@charlotteobserver.com

The impact from the sale of Wachovia's retail banking business to Citigroup is expected to be felt on the sports landscape around Charlotte and the Carolinas, though it is too early to determine the overall effect.

Wachovia has had a large presence in both professional and college sports around the region and throughout the country, through a variety of sponsorship programs.

“For now, it's business as usual as far as our sponsorship commitments,” said Mary Beth Navarro, a spokeswoman for Wachovia marketing.

The bank has been the title sponsor of the Wachovia Championship PGA Tour event each May at Quail Hollow Club, is a founding partner of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats and touches a wide array of sports and franchises.

Officials said the golf tournament is expected to continue in the future with a contract that carries it through 2014.

The event is sponsored by Wachovia but is owned and operated by the nonprofit Champions For Education.

“We have a six-year extension and we look forward to continuing the golf tournament,” Mac Everett, the tournament's executive chairman and a former Wachovia executive, said Monday.

PGA Tour officials have been monitoring the Wachovia situation.

“We fully expect the tournament in Charlotte to continue,” said Jon Podany, senior vice president for business development with the PGA Tour.

“The acquiring company would assume the contract. That's typically the way the contracts work.”

It is still to be determined whether the Wachovia brand would remain on the event while officials at Citigroup and Wachovia work out the details of the transition.

As title sponsor of the golf tournament, which had a $6.4 million purse in 2008, Wachovia spent $3 million on its entitlement fee last year. The PGA Tour pays 62 percent of the purse.

Wachovia also paid more than $3 million for television advertising plus a significant amount on hospitality for clients and guests during the event.

Wachovia is also a founding partner of the Charlotte Bobcats and maintains a large presence with the franchise.

Bobcats president and chief operating officer Fred Whitfield said Wachovia has a long-term deal on a luxury suite in Time Warner Cable Arena and an equity partnership in the franchise. The company also has floor seats and other tickets, Whitfield said.

“Wachovia has a been a phenomenal partner of ours,” Whitfield said. “They've always been very supportive of all our programs and initiatives. Until we can really assess what today's news means, we don't know how to attack it.

“One thing we want to do is be as supportive as possible of Wachovia as a corporation, as a founding level partner of ours. They're a part of our family.”

Wachovia also has its name on the Philadelphia arena where the NBA's Sixers and NHL's Flyers play.

Dan Rajkowski, vice president and general manager of the Charlotte Knights baseball franchise, said Wachovia is involved in the land-swap proposal that would allow the team to build an uptown stadium.

Wachovia is a partner with Bank of America, Rajkowski said, in the financing component of the agreement. Wachovia also has an agreement to donate $1.1 million from the land swap to the team's stadium project.

It is too soon, Rajkowski said, to determine how the developments will impact the continuing efforts to bring baseball uptown.

In 2005, Wachovia signed an eight-year, $9.1million agreement to become the first commercial sponsor inside North Carolina's Dean E. Smith Center. The bank has signage atop two large video boards in the arena.

North Carolina athletics director Dick Baddour said Monday he doesn't expect the recent development “to eliminate the relationship – whether that relationship is with Wachovia or another entity.”

Will Webb, executive director of the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, said Wachovia has been among the game's biggest sponsors through the years but is uncertain what the change in ownership will mean.

Jeff Beaver, executive director of the Charlotte Sports Commission, cited Wachovia's involvement in a multiple areas ranging from NASCAR programs to the sports commission's annual Fight Night fundraising event.

“Call me naïve, but I cannot imagine a company with the prestige of Citigroup, with the exception of a name change, divesting all the good things a company like Wachovia has done when it comes to sports,” Beaver said.

Staff writer Ken Tysiac and Robbi Pickeral of the (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.

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